ICE works to shut down counterfeit websites run by cartels, terrorist groups

Posted at 9:18 PM, Dec 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-02 23:38:24-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Scouring the internet, posing as shoppers, federal agents were able to find hundreds of sites touting deals that are coming at a dangerous cost, unbeknownst to most consumers.

“Terrorist organizations have come to find out that this is a significant revenue generating opportunity for them -- and we have traced this to terrorist organizations,” said Jonathan Lines, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Lines said a money trail that starts right from an online purchase has led ICE agents out of the country to Mexican cartels and even terrorists groups, such as Al Qaeda.

“Often times, you think of gangs and drug cartels and organized criminal enterprises selling things like drugs and guns and often nefarious type items,” Lines said. “Well, they’ve found it’s very lucrative to sell sports jerseys, to sell counterfeit shoes, to sell purses, because the demand is certainly there.”

It’s what prompted a global crackdown called Operation in Our Sites in June 2010. Now, in its fourth year, the operation is referred to as “Project Cyber Monday IV.”

Within the last week, 706 websites were shutdown, 225 of which were closed by Utah’s ICE agent, Lines said. The domain addresses now lead people to a site with law enforcement logos and a warning of the criminal penalties one can face if caught making a counterfeit sale.

“These criminal organizations, they’ve found that they can make a significant amount of money to support their criminal enterprise, Lines said.  “We know that for every one that we put out of business there are probably two or three others that pop up somewhere else.”

The sites typically carry clothing, shoes, accessories and other items popular with most people. The sales cost the global market approximately $500 billion a year, and in some cases, put legitimate businesses out of business.

“I don’t know if we can ever put an end to it, but we can certainly make it uncomfortable and difficult for these people to operate,” Lines said.

The sites seized under this year’s Cyber Monday crackdown bring the total number under the operation to 2,550.  Investigators in Utah, Texas and Colorado were involved in the site closures within the U.S.